Yoko Tani

Yoko Tani (谷洋子, Tani Yōko, 2 August 1928, in Paris[1][2][3] – 19 April 1999, in Paris)[1][2] was a French-Japanese actress and nightclub entertainer.

Yoko Tani (谷洋子)
Itani Yōko (猪谷洋子)

(1928-08-02)2 August 1928
Died19 April 1999(1999-04-19) (aged 70)
OccupationActress, entertainer

Early life

Tani's birth name was Itani Yōko (猪谷洋子).[1][2] She has occasionally been described as 'Eurasian', 'half French', 'half Japanese'[4] and even, in one source, 'Italian Japanese',[5] all of which are incorrect.

Contemporary French records (1958)[6] show that her father and mother—both Japanese—were attached to the Japanese embassy in Paris, with Tani herself conceived en route during a shipboard passage from Japan to Europe in 1927 and subsequently born in Paris the following year, hence given the name Yōko (洋子), one reading of which can mean "ocean-child."[7]

According to Japanese sources,[8] the family returned to Japan in 1930, when Yoko would still have been a toddler, and she did not return to France until 1950 when her schooling was completed. Given that there were severe restrictions on Japanese travelling outside Japan directly after World War II, this would have been an unusual event; however, it is known that Itani had attended an elite Catholic girls' school in Tokyo (unnamed, but probably Seishin Joshi Gakuen), and through it secured a Catholic scholarship to study aesthetics at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) under Étienne Souriau.[3]


Return to France (1950–1955)

Once back in Paris, Tani found little interest in attending university (although by her own account she persevered for two years despite understanding hardly anything that was being said).[9] Instead, she developed a more compelling attraction to the cabaret, the nightclub, and the variety music-hall, where, setting herself up as an exotic oriental beauty, she quickly established a reputation for her provocatively sexy "geisha" dances, which generally ended with her slipping out of her kimono. It was here she was spotted by Marcel Carné, who took her into his circle of director and actor-friends, including Roland Lesaffre, whom she was later to marry.[10] As a result, she began to get bit parts in films—starting as (somewhat predictably) a Japanese dancer, in Gréville's Le port du désir (1953–1954, released 1955)—and on the stage, with a role as Lotus Bleu in la Petite Maison de Thé (French adaptation of The Teahouse of the August Moon) at the Théâtre Montparnasse, 1954–1955 season.[11]

Lesaffre and Japan (1956)

Tani's involvement with cinema was, up to the mid-1950s, limited entirely to that of portraying stereotyped orientals in French films. With the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952, however, postwar Japanese cinema itself burst upon the French scene, culminating in the years 1955 and 1956 when a total of six Japanese films, including Akira Kurosawa's Ikimono no Kiroku (I Live in Fear 生きものの記録) and Kenji Mizoguchi's Chikamatsu Monogatari (The Crucified Lovers 近松物語), were entered at Cannes. It was at Cannes that Tani made contact with directors Hisamatsu Seiji and Kurosawa, contacts which led to a trip to Japan in 1956 by Tani and Lesaffre and their joint appearance in the Toho production Hadashi no seishun (裸足の青春 fr. La jeunesse aux pieds nus), a film about the difficult lives of Catholics in the remote islands off Kyushu, in southern Japan. Tani played the part of a 'fallen woman' who has returned to the islands from Tokyo (where she had run off to become a stripper), and Lesaffre that of the local bishop.[12] It was originally intended that the film be directed by Kurosawa himself, but in the end it fell to his Toho stable-mate Taniguchi Senkichi.[13] Tani and Lesaffre's ambition was to bring the film back to France and release it in the French market, an aim which was, however, never achieved.

During the same trip, and also for Toho, Tani took a minor role in Hisamatsu's Jōshû to tomo ni (女囚と共に), a variant on the dubious but ever-popular "women in prison" theme, in which she played a westernised Japanese Catholic named Marie. This film, which now languishes in justifiable obscurity, was notable only in that it starred two veritable legends of the Japanese cinema: Hara Setsuko and Tanaka Kinuyo. (Despite this, it's not clear how much contact, if any, Tani would have had with them --- apart from the relative novelty of having a French husband in tow, she would have been very much beneath the notice of these great Japanese stars).

International period (1957–1962)

Early in 1957, Tani appeared in a small role in her first English-language film: the MGM production of Graham Greene's The Quiet American, a political drama set in French Indochina. Despite being an American production, the film was shot entirely in Rome (with location scenes of Saigon added), with Tani cast as a francophone Vietnamese nightclub hostess.

But Tani's real "break" in English-language cinema came with the 1958 production The Wind Cannot Read. This film, a war-time love story, had originally been a project of the British producer Alexander Korda, and was to have been directed by David Lean, who in 1955 travelled to Japan with author Richard Mason and cast Japanese actress Kishi Keiko as the female lead. Locations were scouted in India, and Ms Kishi (then 22 years old) was brought to England to learn sufficient English for the part. At a very advanced stage, the project fell apart, and a few months later Korda died. The pieces were eventually picked up by the Rank Organisation, and it was decided to produce the film using the script and locations already set out by Lean, with one of Rank's big stars, Dirk Bogarde, in the male lead, Ralph Thomas to direct, and Tani, who was found in Paris, to play the leading female role. The film was a modest commercial success, and led to further roles in other British co-productions --- as the Inuit Asiak in the Anglo-French-Italian The Savage Innocents (Les Dents du diable) (1959 - nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1960), and as the ingénue Seraphina in Piccadilly Third Stop (1960).[14]

Aside from The Quiet American, her only other "Hollywood" roles were in My Geisha (1962, shot on location in Japan) and the fatuous Dean Martin comedy Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963, Paramount Studios Los Angeles).

Despite being type-cast as an exotic, Tani got to play some unusual roles as a result, as evidenced by her portrayal of Japanese doctor/scientist Sumiko Ogimura in the self-consciously internationalist 1959 East-German/Polish film production of Stanisław Lem's novel The Astronauts, Der schweigende Stern (First Spaceship on Venus), and as Miyake Hanako, Japanese common-law wife of the German double-agent Richard Sorge in Veit Harlan's Verrat an Deutschland.

Perhaps even more unusual (for the time) was her trip to the Vancouver Islands in Canada in 1962 to play the role of Mary Ota in James Clavell's The Sweet and the Bitter, which treats the aftermath of the wartime internment of Canadian Japanese and the loss of their properties and businesses. Ota, a young Japanese woman, returns to British Columbia after a twenty-year absence to avenge her father's internment-camp death, her hatred directed towards the man who stole her father's fishing boats. The movie also includes the obligatory love story between the Japanese girl and a young Canadian boy.[15] The film was completed in 1963, but there was no North American release due to legal and financial difficulties. British Lion finally underwrote a showing of the film in London in 1967.[16]

Spies, swords and sandals (1963 - )

1962/63 marked a shift in Tani's career: a return (once again) to France and the definitive end of her marriage to Lesaffre. From this point on she was to be more strictly European-based and to take on work mainly in the low-budget Italian peplum cinema and in femme fatale roles in UK television dramas such as Danger Man and Man in a Suitcase.

Despite her involvement with film, Tani never abandoned her attachment to the nightclub and cabaret. The British producer Betty Box, when looking for the female lead for The Wind Cannot Read (vide supra), wrote:

As Richard [Mason] suggested, it had been extremely difficult to cast the Japanese girl -- we spent months on that, and nearly gave up. We eventually found Yoko Tani in, of all places, a girlie club -- more or less a striptease joint -- in Paris, and we were delighted with Richard's reaction to her.[17]

And, from a 1960s account of the well-known Le Crazy Horse de Paris nightclub:

[Le] Crazy Horse Saloon is a training ground for stars. From first to last the strippers all have names which are likely to crop up in the movies or Parisian social life: Yoko Tani, Rita Renoir, Rita Cadillac, Dodo d'Hambourg, Bertha von Paraboum, etc.[18]

Even as late as 1977, we find her in São Paulo, where she had a small role in Chinese-Brazilian director Juan Bajon's sexploitation film O Estripador de Mulheres:

Yet images of Japanese-Brazilian sensuality, both explicit and potential, were not confined to film: in 1977, Yoko Tani starred in a transvestite show in downtown São Paulo...[19]

Personal life

Tani married Roland Lesaffre in 1956. They had no children, and divorced in 1962. Lesaffre claimed in his autobiography Mataf (éditions Pygmalion, 1991), that theirs was the first Franco-Japanese marriage after World War II[20] --- conceivably true, but almost impossible to verify. (True or not, it may have begun something of a trend, since Kishi Keiko and Yves Ciampi were married the following year.)

In later life Tani remarried, wedding Roger Laforet, a native of Binic, Côtes-d'Armor (Brittany). A wealthy industrialist, Laforet was an associate of Baron Marcel Bich, co-founder of the BIC consumer products empire. Tani's declining years were spent between Paris and their house in Paimpol overlooking the sea.[21]

She died in Paris, after a long illness, but is buried in Binic together with Laforet. Their tomb carries the Breton inscription «Ganeoc'h Bepred» (roughly, "Always With You").[22]

Tani was survived by her younger sister, Aiko.

Her first name inspired the Belgian comics character Yoko Tsuno by Roger Leloup. [23]



  • 1960 (UK) : Chasing the Dragon - BBC television (scriptwriter Colin Morris)
  • 1961 (UK) : Rashomon - BBC television adaptation dir. Rudolph Cartier - The Wife
  • 1961 (USA) : Here's Hollywood - NBC Television; season 1, episode 28 (broadcast 26 April 1961) - herself
  • 1962 (USA) : Ben Casey - season 1, episode 27, "A Pleasant Thing for the Eyes" - Aiko Tanaka
  • 1963 (UK) : Edgar Wallace Mysteries - episode 31, "The Partner" (based on A Million Dollar Story (1926)) dir. Gerard Glaister[24] - Lin Siyan
  • 1964 (UK) : Drama - episode "Miss Hanago" - Miss Hanago
  • 1966 (UK) : Armchair Theatre - Associated British Corp. - episode "The Tilted Screen" - Michiko
  • 1967 (UK) : Danger Man - ITV; season 4, episode 1, "Koroshi" - Ako Nakamura
  • 1967 (UK) : Danger Man - ITV; season 4, episode 2, "Shinda Shima" - Miho
  • 1967 (UK) : Man in a Suitcase - ITV; episode 5, "Variation on a Million Bucks pt. 1" - Taiko
  • 1967 (UK) : Man in a Suitcase - ITV; episode 6, "Variation on a Million Bucks pt. 2" - Taiko
  • 1968 (France/Canada) : Les Dossiers de l'agence O - episode 10, "L'arrestation du musicien" - Kiku - la stripteaseuse
  • 1971 (UK) : Shirley's World - episode 12, "A Girl Like You" - Okiyo - ITV (UK transmission date 23 June 1972)
  • 1972 (France/Québéc) : Le fils du ciel - Gisèle
  • 1986 (France) : Série rose (erotic anthology) - episode "Le lotus d'or" dir. Walerian Borowczyk - Madame Lune



  1. fr:Yoko Tani
  2. "谷洋子(たに ようこ)とは - コトバンク". kotobank.jp. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  3. mr.yunioshi. "女優編:海外の映画シーンで活躍する日本人スター&スタッフ". yunioshi.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  4. Film fatales: Women in espionage films and television, 1962–1973 Tom Lisanti, Louis Paul p 282
  5. The Film Daily. 129. Wid's Films and Film Folk Incorporated. 1966. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  6. http://lh3.ggpht.com/_Enhom_u6Rl8/SXCF4dYJSjI/AAAAAAAABmQ/A0GU13qq0vM/YOKOTANI02.jpg
  7. ibid
  8. "映画の國 || コラム ||". eiganokuni.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  9. Video on YouTube
  10. "Reperes biographiques de Roland Lesaffre, Filmographie de Roland Lesaffre, ses décorations | Marcel Carné". marcel-carne.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  11. "Affiches de Théâtre - La Petite maison de thé de John PATRICK - Théâtre Montparnasse 1955". regietheatrale.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  12. "裸足の青春(1956) | Movie Walker". movie.walkerplus.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  13. "Photographies de Roland Lesaffre | Marcel Carné". marcel-carne.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  14. David Lean: A Biography Kevin Brownlow Faber&Faber, London 1996 pp 331-341
  15. Canada and Canadians in Feature Films: A Filmography, 1928–1990 Ian K. Easterbrook, Susan Waterman MacLean, University of Guelph, 1996 p 60
  16. Torn Sprockets: Uncertain Projection of the Canadian Film, Gerald Pratley, University of Delaware Press, 1987 p 176
  17. Lifting the Lid: the Autobiography of Film Producer Betty Box, OBE Betty Evelyn Box, University of Michigan Press, 2000
  18. A Parisian's guide to Paris Henri Gault, Christian Millau Random House, 1969
  19. A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy 1960–1980 Jeffrey Lesser, Duke University Press 2007
  20. "1991 - L'autobiographie de Roland Lesaffre : Mataf | Marcel Carné". marcel-carne.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  21. https://www.ouest-france.fr/bretagne/binic-22520/binic-etables-sur-mer-hommage-l-actrice-japonaise-yoko-tani-5151480
  22. "BINIC (22) : cimetière - Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs". landrucimetieres.fr. Retrieved 2015-01-04.
  23. https://www.lambiek.net/artists/l/leloup.htm
  24. "» EDGAR WALLACE AT MERTON PARK by Tise Vahimagi". mysteryfile.com. Retrieved 2015-01-04.

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